Sycamora Tree: a new IF company :)

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Sarinee Achavanuntakul

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Jan 23, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/23/00
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Hi folks,

Just saw on http://adventuregamer.com that there's now a new IF
company called Sycamora Tree... I was wondering if the founders are
anyone we know since I couldn't find any details :-)

The news is at
http://www.adventuregamer.com/cgi/news/news.cgi?v=news&c=Adventure_News&id=01211008328

and the company is
http://www.sycamoratree.com/

Looking forward to their game(s) :-)

-Sarinee


Paul O'Brian

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Jan 23, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/23/00
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On Sun, 23 Jan 2000, Sarinee Achavanuntakul wrote:

> Just saw on http://adventuregamer.com that there's now a new IF
> company called Sycamora Tree...

> and the company is
> http://www.sycamoratree.com/

After looking at the web page, I'll admit I'm curious, but also quite
skeptical, given the multitude of writing errors. It's hard to get
excited about text adventures produced by people who have such an
obviously poor command of English.

--
Paul O'Brian obr...@colorado.edu http://ucsu.colorado.edu/~obrian
SPAG #19 is here, featuring reviews of 1999 IF competition games and
interviews with the winners, along with news, scoreboard, and more!
Find it at http://www.sparkynet.com/spag


Pradical

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Jan 23, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/23/00
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Paul O'Brian wrote:

> After looking at the web page, I'll admit I'm curious, but also quite
> skeptical, given the multitude of writing errors. It's hard to get
> excited about text adventures produced by people who have such an
> obviously poor command of English.
>
> --

Maybe they just were careless in their spelling/grammar. However for
a company that has been operating for at least 6 months they have
very little on their site

Paul O'Brian

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Jan 23, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/23/00
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On Sun, 23 Jan 2000, Pradical wrote:

>
> Paul O'Brian wrote:
>
> > It's hard to get
> > excited about text adventures produced by people who have such an
> > obviously poor command of English.

> Maybe they just were careless in their spelling/grammar.

Six of one...

Whether they can't write or (due to laziness, carelessness, contrariness,
or whatever) are "just" indistinguishable from people who can't write
makes no difference. The result is equally unimpressive.

Arcum Dagsson

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Jan 23, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/23/00
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In article
<Pine.GSO.3.96.100012...@ucsu.Colorado.EDU>, Paul
O'Brian <obr...@ucsu.Colorado.EDU> wrote:

>On Sun, 23 Jan 2000, Pradical wrote:
>>
>> Paul O'Brian wrote:
>>
>> > It's hard to get
>> > excited about text adventures produced by people who have such an
>> > obviously poor command of English.
>
>> Maybe they just were careless in their spelling/grammar.
>
>Six of one...
>
>Whether they can't write or (due to laziness, carelessness, contrariness,
>or whatever) are "just" indistinguishable from people who can't write
>makes no difference. The result is equally unimpressive.

Agreed on the spelling mistakes and lack on info. Generally, at least
running a spell checker on a web site before putting it up is a good
idea. There were a couple other things that bothered me, too...

The fact that they had local copies of Zork 1-3 in their download area
(as opposed to linking to activision) seemed a little dubious to me,
though it's possible they could have cleared local copies, and neglected
to mention it, I suppose.

Also, a bit in their FAQ seemed a little unsatisfying, and rather
lacking in the research of the recent history of interactive fiction
that you would expect from someone about to put money into it. They
mentioned Inform as one of the best text adventure engines(while lacking
mention of Hugo, Tads (html or otherwise), etc) and seemed not to grasp
the distinction between the z-machine and Inform (which they attributed
to Infocom). Having the only platform they mentioned it running on be
the C64, too, really made it feel like they skimped on their research,
and ignored the entire current market they are aiming fors presence on
the net.

Still, perhaps they'll correct the inaccuracies on their site, check the
currently available information, put some more info on their site, and
put out new text adventures that we'll want to pay money for. One never
knows...

--
--Arcum Dagsson
"Hey! No fair! Why is my whole life situated in a couple of rude words?"
-lessie-

Volker Blasius

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Jan 24, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/24/00
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Paul O'Brian wrote:
>
> After looking at the web page, I'll admit I'm curious, but also quite
> skeptical, given the multitude of writing errors. It's hard to get

> excited about text adventures produced by people who have such an
> obviously poor command of English.

Domain Name: SYCAMORATREE.COM
Registrar: CORE INTERNET COUNCIL OF REGISTRARS
Whois Server: whois.corenic.net
Referral URL: www.corenic.net
Name Server: HOLLYWOOD.BLUERANGE.SE
Name Server: VENICE.BLUERANGE.SE
Updated Date: 23-sep-1999

Are they based in Sweden? That might explain some language problems.

Volker

Paul O'Brian

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Jan 24, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/24/00
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On Mon, 24 Jan 2000, Volker Blasius wrote:

> [server info snipped]


>
> Are they based in Sweden? That might explain some language problems.

Seems like a plausible explanation to me.

But... I hope I'm not sounding like a jerk here, but I hope they get
somebody fluent in English to write their text adventures. There may very
well be some such legitimate explanation as to why the writing on the web
page is so poor, but no matter what the explanation, it does not bode well
for the writing in their games. (Unless of course the games are in
Swedish, in which case I won't be able to play them anyway.)

TenthStone

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Jan 25, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/25/00
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On Mon, 24 Jan 2000 16:13:26 -0700, Paul O'Brian
<obr...@ucsu.Colorado.EDU> wrote:

>On Mon, 24 Jan 2000, Volker Blasius wrote:
>
>> [server info snipped]
>>
>> Are they based in Sweden? That might explain some language problems.
>
>Seems like a plausible explanation to me.
>
>But... I hope I'm not sounding like a jerk here, but I hope they get
>somebody fluent in English to write their text adventures. There may very
>well be some such legitimate explanation as to why the writing on the web
>page is so poor, but no matter what the explanation, it does not bode well
>for the writing in their games. (Unless of course the games are in
>Swedish, in which case I won't be able to play them anyway.)

What it sounded like to me was that they were hoping to play more the
role of publisher/producer than of writer. Although, international
postage might be a bit of a downer on that idea, and CMP loyalty won't
help.

----------------
The Imperturbable TenthStone
tenth...@hotmail.com mcc...@gsgis.k12.va.us

msa...@cc.jyu.fi

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Jan 26, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/26/00
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Quoth the Paul O'Brian <obr...@ucsu.colorado.edu>:

> But... I hope I'm not sounding like a jerk here, but I hope they get
> somebody fluent in English to write their text adventures. There may very
> well be some such legitimate explanation as to why the writing on the web
> page is so poor, but no matter what the explanation, it does not bode well
> for the writing in their games. (Unless of course the games are in
> Swedish, in which case I won't be able to play them anyway.)

As I am planning to write a game myself and I know that my English, while
being above-average for a 19 years old Finn, is not comparable to someone
who has spoken and written English as their prime language for years, I am
curious to know how much these kind of things matter? I am not going to
write my game in Finnish, as it has rather complicated grammar and such a
little audience. If I'm going to write a game, I want that someone will
play.

--
Mikko Saari For you I even be a sunflower
msa...@cc.jyu.fi Do you hear my enlightening laughter?
161 another reason to cut off an ear

Magnus Olsson

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Jan 26, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/26/00
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In article <86mcv3$ab5$1...@mordred.cc.jyu.fi>, <msa...@cc.jyu.fi> wrote:
>As I am planning to write a game myself and I know that my English, while
>being above-average for a 19 years old Finn, is not comparable to someone
>who has spoken and written English as their prime language for years, I am
>curious to know how much these kind of things matter? I am not going to
>write my game in Finnish, as it has rather complicated grammar and such a
>little audience. If I'm going to write a game, I want that someone will
>play.

Well, I think the best advice is: Try to write your game in
English. If you find that your English is good enough to express what
you want to express, go on writing in English. Then get a number of
natives as beta testers, and ask them to point out any instances of
bad or strange English.


--
Magnus Olsson (m...@df.lth.se, zeb...@pobox.com)
------ http://www.pobox.com/~zebulon ------

msa...@cc.jyu.fi

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Jan 26, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/26/00
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Quoth the Magnus Olsson <m...@bartlet.df.lth.se>:

> Well, I think the best advice is: Try to write your game in
> English. If you find that your English is good enough to express what
> you want to express, go on writing in English. Then get a number of
> natives as beta testers, and ask them to point out any instances of
> bad or strange English.

Well, I trust my ten years of studying and getting the best possible
grades in the matriculation exams enough... Let's see. I am currently
finishing a two-room single puzzle I made as a practise. Now as I
understand the basics of Inform, I'm going to start planning my first
bigger game.

Let's see, if anything ever gets released. It's really too bad that I
can't (or it is not reasonable) write games in Finnish; I *know* I'm a
good writer if I write in Finnish.

Jon Ingold

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Jan 26, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/26/00
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>curious to know how much these kind of things matter? I am not going to
>write my game in Finnish, as it has rather complicated grammar

Would it be possible to write a parser in Finnish? It uses endings for
prepositions (I think), so the parser would have to be able to recognise
longer words, and .. yeah.. find an ending on a word which may be different
in some cases.. ugh.. complicated..

Jon

Nick Montfort

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Jan 26, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/26/00
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In article <86mf71$g67$1...@mordred.cc.jyu.fi>, msa...@cc.jyu.fi wrote:

> Well, I trust my ten years of studying and getting the best possible

> grades in the matriculation exams enough... [...]


>
> It's really too bad that I
> can't (or it is not reasonable) write games in Finnish; I *know* I'm
> a good writer if I write in Finnish.

It's not a horrible idea to write the game in English - for certain
purposes. Even if you can communicate well in English, through, unless
you're Conrad or Nabokov - someone intimate with English diction,
its shades of meaning and twists of syntax - it's not going to be
well-written. It might still be enjoyed by some people, as well as
helping you to master aspects of IF craft.

For some people, though, writing that is above-average with a few great
moments is worth more than dozens of gripping puzzles. If these people
are part of your readership, consider other options:

o Design the geography, plot, puzzles, characters and interactions and
have someone else do the writing.

o Collaborate with a writer, sharing the design tasks mentioned above
and doing the programming yourself.

o Write a work of IF in Finnish and have the text translated into
English by someone who does literary translation.

If you found a person interested in computer literature and shared the
responsibility and credit in a way that was acceptable to that
collaborator, these options wouldn't have to be paying propositions.
(Assuming you're not trying to sell your software.)

-Nick M.


Sent via Deja.com http://www.deja.com/
Before you buy.

Mike Snyder

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Jan 26, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/26/00
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<msa...@cc.jyu.fi> wrote in message news:86mcv3$ab5$1...@mordred.cc.jyu.fi...

> As I am planning to write a game myself and I know that my English, while
> being above-average for a 19 years old Finn, is not comparable to someone
> who has spoken and written English as their prime language for years, I am

> curious to know how much these kind of things matter? I am not going to

> write my game in Finnish, as it has rather complicated grammar and such a
> little audience. If I'm going to write a game, I want that someone will
> play.

Your English seems better than some people who *have* spoken/written it as a
first language their entire lives. :)

Mike.

Jake Wildstrom

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Jan 26, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/26/00
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In article <86n4om$e7i$1...@nnrp1.deja.com>,

Nick Montfort <nickmo...@my-deja.com> wrote:
>o Design the geography, plot, puzzles, characters and interactions and
>have someone else do the writing.
>
>o Collaborate with a writer, sharing the design tasks mentioned above
>and doing the programming yourself.
>
>o Write a work of IF in Finnish and have the text translated into
>English by someone who does literary translation.

Or he could, as suggested above, write in English and have the text perused by
a native speaker. His English seems excellent and likely to be at least
technically correct (maybe shaky on idioms--non-native speakers of any
language tend to have trouble there), and a proofreader could maybe give
stylistic pointers.

+--First Church of Briantology--Order of the Holy Quaternion--+
| A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into |
| theorems. -Paul Erdos |
+-------------------------------------------------------------+
| Jake Wildstrom |
+-------------------------------------------------------------+

Mikko P Vuorinen

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Jan 26, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/26/00
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In <86mqhb$6l3$1...@pegasus.csx.cam.ac.uk> "Jon Ingold" <ji...@cam.ac.uk> writes:

>>curious to know how much these kind of things matter? I am not going to
>>write my game in Finnish, as it has rather complicated grammar

>Would it be possible to write a parser in Finnish? It uses endings for


>prepositions (I think), so the parser would have to be able to recognise
>longer words, and .. yeah.. find an ending on a word which may be different
>in some cases.. ugh.. complicated..

You have to define different cases as synonyms, so for example
"miekka" 'sword' and "miekalla" 'with sword' are a single word. It works,
although word order can cause difficulties. But if word order is fixed to
verb-object-target/tool/whatever, it is actually quite simple.

So, for example let's have an axe and a troll. We have defined a throw
verb, so we can throw the axe at the troll. We have synonyms
"kirves" and "kirveellä" for the axe and "peikko" and "peikkoa" for the
troll. The correct way to say that is "heitä kirveellä peikkoa" (actually
most people would say 'heitä peikkoa kirveellä' so the word order can be
a problem), but the simplified form is "heitä kirves peikko".

--
)))) (((( + Mikko Vuorinen + mvuo...@cc.helsinki.fi
)) OO `oo'((( + Dilbon@IRC&ifMUD + http://www.helsinki.fi/~mvuorine/
6 (_) ( ((( + GSM 050-5859733 +
`____c 8__/((( + + Tähän tilaan ei mahdu mitään.

Dan Schmidt

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Jan 26, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/26/00
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msa...@cc.jyu.fi writes:

| Quoth the Paul O'Brian <obr...@ucsu.colorado.edu>:
|
| > But... I hope I'm not sounding like a jerk here, but I hope they
| > get somebody fluent in English to write their text
| > adventures. There may very well be some such legitimate
| > explanation as to why the writing on the web page is so poor, but
| > no matter what the explanation, it does not bode well for the
| > writing in their games. (Unless of course the games are in
| > Swedish, in which case I won't be able to play them anyway.)
|

| As I am planning to write a game myself and I know that my English,
| while being above-average for a 19 years old Finn, is not comparable
| to someone who has spoken and written English as their prime

| language for years, I am curious to know how much these kind of


| things matter? I am not going to write my game in Finnish, as it has

| rather complicated grammar and such a little audience. If I'm going
| to write a game, I want that someone will play.

It looks like your English is certainly good enough to write a game
that people will play and enjoy. My problem (and I think Paul's
also) with Sycamora Tree's English was largely that they are selling
themselves as a professional company selling Infocom-quality games.

--
Dan Schmidt | http://www.dfan.org

Nick Montfort

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Jan 26, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/26/00
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In article <388f1a45$0$22...@senator-bedfellow.mit.edu>,

wil...@mit.edu (Jake Wildstrom) wrote:
> In article <86n4om$e7i$1...@nnrp1.deja.com>,
> Nick Montfort <nickmo...@my-deja.com> wrote:
> >o Design the geography, plot, puzzles, characters and interactions
and
> >have someone else do the writing.
> >
> >o Collaborate with a writer, sharing the design tasks mentioned
above
> >and doing the programming yourself.
> >
> >o Write a work of IF in Finnish and have the text translated into
> >English by someone who does literary translation.
>
> Or he could, as suggested above, write in English and have the text
> perused by a native speaker. His English seems excellent and likely
> to be at least technically correct (maybe shaky on idioms--non-native
> speakers of any language tend to have trouble there), and a
> proofreader could maybe give stylistic pointers.

Right, he could do that. I think it would be a bad idea, and I think
any of the three routes I suggested would be better.

Not even shoddy journalism is done in the way you suggest. People who
are accomplished writers in the target language (within their
profession and the form in which they work, at least) either write the
final text or translate into that language. Why try to do something
with a literary dimension in that manner, when there are better ways?

J. Holder

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Jan 26, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/26/00
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Sarinee Achavanuntakul <sar...@earthlink.net> scribed:

> and the company is
> http://www.sycamoratree.com/

More info for the interested:

Magnus Grander (template COCO-12171)
SycamoraTree
Tranghallavagen 8
Jonkoping, SE 56436 SE

Domain Name: sycamoratree.com
Status: production

Admin Contact:
Magnus Grander (COCO-12171) mag...@icec.se
+46 36379536

Technical Contact, Zone Contact:
Mikael Plate (COCO-8737) mik...@bluerange.se
+46 36340188

--
John Holder (jho...@frii.com) http://www.frii.com/~jholder/
<jholder> do you like FreeBSD?
<hal> I need to get the ISDN line running so that I will tell it to pass over
me and replace my SuSE box with FreeBSD.


msa...@cc.jyu.fi

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Jan 26, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/26/00
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Quoth the Jake Wildstrom <wil...@mit.edu>:

> a native speaker. His English seems excellent and likely to be at least
> technically correct (maybe shaky on idioms--non-native speakers of any
> language tend to have trouble there), and a proofreader could maybe give
> stylistic pointers.

Yes, that is the most difficult thing. It's hard to learn the right
idioms and avoid using Finnish idioms translated in English. That will
sound just silly :) And my supply of fancy synonyms is a bit smallish.

Magnus Olsson

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Jan 26, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/26/00
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In article <r3Gj4.735$G3.188...@news.frii.net>,

J. Holder <jho...@io.frii.com> wrote:
>Sarinee Achavanuntakul <sar...@earthlink.net> scribed:
>> and the company is
>> http://www.sycamoratree.com/
>
>More info for the interested:
>
>Magnus Grander (template COCO-12171)

It seems that a disproportionately large portion of Swedish IF fans
are called Magnus. Probably just a statistical fluke, though.

Joe Mason

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Jan 26, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/26/00
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Magnus Olsson <m...@bartlet.df.lth.se> wrote:
>>Magnus Grander (template COCO-12171)
>
>It seems that a disproportionately large portion of Swedish IF fans
>are called Magnus. Probably just a statistical fluke, though.

I just assumed a disproportionately large portion of Swedes were named Magnus.

(Don't we have more than our share of Volker's, too?)

Joe

Magnus Olsson

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Jan 26, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/26/00
to
In article <lHIj4.55198$Dv1.1...@news2.rdc1.on.home.com>,

Joe Mason <jcm...@uwaterloo.ca> wrote:
>Magnus Olsson <m...@bartlet.df.lth.se> wrote:
>>>Magnus Grander (template COCO-12171)
>>
>>It seems that a disproportionately large portion of Swedish IF fans
>>are called Magnus. Probably just a statistical fluke, though.
>
>I just assumed a disproportionately large portion of Swedes were named Magnus.

It's a fairly common name, but not *that* common.

Jon Ingold

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Jan 26, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/26/00
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msa...@cc.jyu.fi wrote in message <86ngva$10e$1...@mordred.cc.jyu.fi>...

>Quoth the Jake Wildstrom <wil...@mit.edu>:
>> a native speaker. His English seems excellent and likely to be at least
>> technically correct (maybe shaky on idioms--non-native speakers of any
>> language tend to have trouble there), and a proofreader could maybe give
>> stylistic pointers.
>
>Yes, that is the most difficult thing. It's hard to learn the right
>idioms and avoid using Finnish idioms translated in English. That will
>sound just silly :) And my supply of fancy synonyms is a bit smallish.


It would be quite cool to have a game with out-of-context translated Finnish
idioms though; just because I don't think it's been done before..

Jon

Magnus Olsson

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Jan 26, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/26/00
to
In article <86n4om$e7i$1...@nnrp1.deja.com>,
Nick Montfort <nickmo...@my-deja.com> wrote:
>It's not a horrible idea to write the game in English - for certain
>purposes. Even if you can communicate well in English, through, unless
>you're Conrad or Nabokov - someone intimate with English diction,
>its shades of meaning and twists of syntax - it's not going to be
>well-written.

You know, at first I didn't really know what to make of this
post. English is not my first language, and yet I write directly in
English. Could you really be comparing me to Conrad and Nabokov? No,
that's too much, even for an ego like mine. So, I had to resign myself
to that what you're really saying is that my games aren't
well-written. Well, I suppose I can live with that. You won't be the
first one to poin tout flaws in them; of course, it would have been
nicer if you had actually pointed at some concrete flaw, rather than
just let impeccable logic run its course. But one can't have
everything, I suppose.

>It might still be enjoyed by some people, as well as
>helping you to master aspects of IF craft.

Well, how very nice of you to tell me. Of course, I already thought
that some people enjoyed "Zebulon" despite its pitiful English, but
its nice to get some confirmation. And I suppose I have learned to
master some aspects of IF craft over the years; writing may not be one
of those, but then I apparently made the mistake of presuming to write
in a language other than my own.

>For some people, though, writing that is above-average with a few great
>moments is worth more than dozens of gripping puzzles. If these people
>are part of your readership, consider other options:

I think you are underestimating the attraction of puzzles; "Zebulon"
didn't have dozens of gripping puzzles, but only two, and "Aayela" had
none, yet strangely enough I got the impression that at least some of
"those people" were part of my readership. But perhaps I'm mistaken
there as well.

But enough already.

I'm really sorry for the sarcasm and for the self-glorification above
(I honestly don't claim to be a very good writer, just a barely
adequate one, but I do have the presumption to think that my English
is good enough to be publishable), but I had to get this out of the
system. There are few things that make me so angry as when somebody
gets condescending whithout knowing what he's talking about,
especially if this behaviour is used to tell some newcomer that it's
no use for him even to try, he'll never be good enough, so he'd better
just forget about his ambitions.

There must be thousands of writers who are getting published in
languages other than their native ones. Sure, we don't hear about so
many of them - or, rather, we don't hear about them being non-natives
- but then we don't hear about the overwhelming majority of writers,
period.

To be able to write as well as Nabokov did in a second (or, in his
case, perhaps it was third) language is a rare talent indeed (but then
only a handful of people in the world can write as well as he did, in
any language). But, for heaven's sake, we're not talking about Nobel
class prose here, we're talking about prose good enough to *work*, and
that's something quite different. (Contrary to popular prejudice, you
don't need an extraordinary command of language to be a successful
author; what you need above all is the ability to tell a story).


Of course, a certain level of fluency in English is necessary; a game
or story written in fractured English is unlikely to be
salvageable. But good editing can overcome a lot of grammatic
uncertainty and lack of sense for nuances. What I'm suggesting is that
our Finnish friend write in English (which, judging by his posts,
seems better than that of many natives), and then let a native speaker
edit his text. This approach seems entirely workable to me.

But, then, who am I to know. I'm just a stupid foreigner, remember?
And I forgot that I'm not supposed to be able to write English. How
unthoughtful of me. Sorry, next time I'll try to remember to bring the
pidgin.

Paul O'Brian

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Jan 26, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/26/00
to
On 26 Jan 2000, Magnus Olsson wrote:

> Of course, a certain level of fluency in English is necessary; a game
> or story written in fractured English is unlikely to be
> salvageable.

As far as I'm concerned, this is the point. It doesn't matter whether
English is your first language or your tenth language -- what matters is
whether you can write well enough in English that your prose works. I
don't mean that you're as good as Nabokov -- the *vast* majority of native
English speakers couldn't make that claim either. I mean (as Magnus says)
just that the writing works -- that it's readable, it makes sense, and
perhaps it's even enjoyable to read. I had no idea English wasn't Magnus'
first language (though I might have guessed it, since he's Swedish)
because his English prose works. The same could be said for Mikko
Vuorinen, and the other Mikko (sorry I've forgotten your last name) who
posted querulously about whether his English would be good enough.

The same could not be said for the writing on Sycamora Tree's web page.
For that matter, I wouldn't say that Rybread Celsius' English prose works
(though I know many would disagree with me on that point), and as far as I
know he *is* a native English speaker.

> But good editing can overcome a lot of grammatic
> uncertainty and lack of sense for nuances. What I'm suggesting is that
> our Finnish friend write in English (which, judging by his posts,
> seems better than that of many natives), and then let a native speaker
> edit his text. This approach seems entirely workable to me.

Me too. In fact, I would recommend this for *anybody*, myself included. I
think it should be a normal part of beta testing. Ask any author --
readers will catch things that you've missed, whether we're talking about
IF, or conventional fiction, or reviews, or *anything*. Have somebody read
your stuff before you release it to the public, and chances are they'll
find some ways to make it better.

> But, then, who am I to know. I'm just a stupid foreigner, remember?
> And I forgot that I'm not supposed to be able to write English. How
> unthoughtful of me. Sorry, next time I'll try to remember to bring the
> pidgin.

Magnus, I don't think I've ever seen you quite that hostile. I don't think
Nick meant any specific harm -- he was just making an overly broad
generalization, and no doubt now is rethinking his position. (I hope.)

Juho Snellman

unread,
Jan 26, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/26/00
to
<mvuo...@cc.helsinki.fi> wrote:
>So, for example let's have an axe and a troll. We have defined a throw
>verb, so we can throw the axe at the troll. We have synonyms
>"kirves" and "kirveellä" for the axe and "peikko" and "peikkoa" for the
>troll. The correct way to say that is "heitä kirveellä peikkoa" (actually
>most people would say 'heitä peikkoa kirveellä' so the word order can be
>a problem), but the simplified form is "heitä kirves peikko".

And that example illustrates the problems with just making the
different cases of a word point to the same dictionary entry.
The player would constantly have to adjust his word ordering
to the "one true way", even if it just wouldn't feel natural.

You might argue that the correct ordering would be obvious,
but I just might have a reason to throw the troll at the
axe.

Whining about inadequate parsers every time a new IF development
system is released (or a homebrewn parser is used for an
IFComp game, etc...) is a favourite hobby of a lot of the
raif/rgif crowd. Leaving aside the absurdity of there being
any interest on their part to playing IF in finnish, it's
still true that returning to the equivalent of a two-word
parser would basically make the whole piece unenjoyable.

On the other hand, the inflexion rules are pretty much
completely regular, so implementing this properly shouldn't
be too hard. But why in the world would anyone go through the
trouble even then? :-)

--
Juho Snellman
"C:stä on kehitetty Massachusettsin teknillisessä korkeakoulussa kieli
nimeltä BCPL."

David Lodge

unread,
Jan 27, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/27/00
to
On 26 Jan 2000 08:58:11 GMT, msa...@cc.jyu.fi wrote:
[snip]

>As I am planning to write a game myself and I know that my English, while
>being above-average for a 19 years old Finn, is not comparable to someone
>who has spoken and written English as their prime language for years, I am
>curious to know how much these kind of things matter? I am not going to
>write my game in Finnish, as it has rather complicated grammar and such a
>little audience. If I'm going to write a game, I want that someone will
>play.

I don't really see it as a problem - you will get complaints from some
people about grammar and spelling; but then again, most natural
English speakers have problems with the above (see usenet!)

Your English seems fine to me. In fact I find that most people who
have English as a second language can write it better than those of us
with English as a first language.

There are implicit problems - if you use some of the common phrases in
your language translated to English a lot of people may have
difficulties with them. Eg I have difficulties with American English -
many words 'look' wrong, (eg 'spit' vs 'spat', 'color' vs 'colour')
but I can mentally avoid most of them...

In essence; I wouldn't worry - the fact that you've written your game
in English means more players.

dave

Magnus Olsson

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Jan 27, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/27/00
to
In article <Pine.GSO.3.96.100012...@ucsu.Colorado.EDU>,

Paul O'Brian <obr...@ucsu.Colorado.EDU> wrote:
>Magnus, I don't think I've ever seen you quite that hostile. I don't think
>Nick meant any specific harm -- he was just making an overly broad
>generalization, and no doubt now is rethinking his position. (I hope.)

I overreacted, and I'm sorry for that; Nick's post deserved a correction,
not that amount of sarcasm. Nick, I apologize for overreacting, and
be assured that I was attacking merely your post, not you personally.

Fredrik Ekman

unread,
Jan 27, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/27/00
to
Pardon me if I do not understand this properly, but it seems to
me that a Finnish parser whould not really be more difficult to
construct than an English, only it would have to be constructed
using a totally different set of rules and would not be able to
allow abbreviations of words. And if lack of abbreviation is
considered a problem, I am sure it could be worked around
somehow.

jsn...@iki.fi (Juho Snellman) writes:

> On the other hand, the inflexion rules are pretty much
> completely regular, so implementing this properly shouldn't
> be too hard. But why in the world would anyone go through the
> trouble even then? :-)

And why not? Personally, I would be much happier to see a good
text adventure in Finnish than yet another English game, even
though I would be totally unable to play it. I do not see why
IF should have to be for the English-speaking world only.

In a previous post, Mikko Saari wrote that one reason for
writing a game in English was that he wanted it to be played.
On the other hand, an English game would have to compete with
the continuous flow (well, almost) of other English games
that are released. A new Finnish game, even though its
potential audience would perhaps be counted only in the
hundreds, would have no competition at all.

There currently seems to be "nationalistic" movements for
several different languages, in particular German and Spanish.
Why, there is even some activity for my native Swedish. I do
not see why Finnish should be left behind in this development.

Let us fight for cultural diversity in the IF community!

/Fredrik

PS. There already exists at least one Finnish text adventure.
It was written for the Amiga several years ago and is titled
Zandhulin Helmi or something similar. It is probably
downloadable from Aminet or somewhere.

Timo Korvola

unread,
Jan 27, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/27/00
to
mvuo...@cc.helsinki.fi (Mikko P Vuorinen) writes:

> In <86mqhb$6l3$1...@pegasus.csx.cam.ac.uk> "Jon Ingold" <ji...@cam.ac.uk> writes:
> >Would it be possible to write a parser in Finnish?

Parsers for Finnish exist e.g. in automatical translation systems and
grammar checkers. It would be somewhat different from parsing English
and other analytic languages though.

> You have to define different cases as synonyms, so for example
> "miekka" 'sword' and "miekalla" 'with sword' are a single word.

If you want something more complicated than two-word commands this
does not suffice. You have to identify the noun and the case.
Lexical analysis seems the tough part as conjugation is not very
regular. You would probably end up tabulating all nouns, adjectives
and pronouns in all cases, possibly small numerals as well. The
tables could get a bit large as there are fifteen cases but not all of
them are likely to be needed in an adventure game--one might make do
with as few as eight. Multiply by two to account for singular and
plural.

After lexing I don't think parsing would be essentially more
complicated than for other natural languages. However, existing IF
systems made for analytic languages may not offer much support for
this kind of a thing.

> It works, although word order can cause difficulties. But if word
> order is fixed to verb-object-target/tool/whatever, it is actually
> quite simple.

That would be totally stone-age.

Besides, you also need to be able to _output_ descriptions for
arbitrary objects in a variety of cases. What happens when the player
throws that axe at the troll? And if something else is thrown
instead? Or at something else?

--
Timo Korvola <URL:http://www.iki.fi/tkorvola>

Nick Montfort

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Jan 27, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/27/00
to
In article <86o184$d8a$1...@bartlet.df.lth.se>, m...@bartlet.df.lth.se
(Magnus Olsson) wrote:

> I overreacted, and I'm sorry for that; Nick's post deserved a
> correction, not that amount of sarcasm.

Coming later in a thread where you had posted, I see how my comments
could have suggested something negative about your writing. I certainly
didn't intend that at all, and I apologize as well. So let's forget it.
I'm not trying to attack anyone's work or writing, only offer
constructive advice when someone had asked for it.

My post does need a correction, although I still hold with what I was
trying to say. Mikko Saari wondered about what the options were his
creating a work of IF in English. He felt his ability in English "is


not comparable to someone who has spoken and written English as their

prime language for years." It's evident from his posts that he is a
much better writer in English than many native speakers, as has been
pointed out. But that doesn't make him a highly skilled writer, any
more than my knowing more than the average person does about graphic
design makes me a highly skilled graphic designer. The advice I've
offered is suitable, I think, for anyone -- of whatever native language
-- who is not a professional English writer and who hopes to create a
serious, outstanding IF work in English.

I wanted to offer three collaborative options which would allow someone
whose expertise was writing, in the target language, to craft the final
text. I think because my comments raised some ire, my basic suggestion
-- that IF developers can collaborate with writers and get good
results -- was overlooked or dismissed.

I have just finished several rounds of revision of a lengthy
manuscript, written by an accomplished non-native English speaker. I
don't think one gets good writing by using this sort of process. The
work I was looking at was a screenplay, a working document used in
producing another piece of art, and isn't to be published -- as IF is
-- in a final textual form. For this, the write-and-revise process can
be acceptable. But I don't know of any really good works (certainly no
great works) of writing which are produced this way.

To involve a writer does make a one-person project into a multi-person
project, but it can also result in a great finished work. This sort of
collaboration might not suit everyone who doesn't write professionally,
because there are great benefits to doing the whole project by
yourself. There are benefits to collaboration, though, too. Working
during the creative process with a skilled translator or writer
shouldn't be an offensive idea.

SteveG

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Jan 27, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/27/00
to
On 26 Jan 2000 21:13:58 +0100, m...@bartlet.df.lth.se (Magnus Olsson)
wrote:

[snip]

>It seems that a disproportionately large portion of Swedish IF fans
>are called Magnus.

and professional men's tennis players

> Probably just a statistical fluke, though.

no, I'm sure it means something. :-)

-- sg

PS: good luck to Magnus Norman in the Aussie Open.

PPS: perhaps, Magnus, you should, on behalf of RAIF, present him with
a gift-wrapped edition of "Uncle Zebulon's Will" if he wins - being
named Magnus and all, I'm sure he'll love it!

-- :-)


Magnus Stromgren

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Jan 28, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/28/00
to
In <86nki6$2dn$1...@bartlet.df.lth.se>, m...@bartlet.df.lth.se (Magnus
Olsson) wrote:

>It seems that a disproportionately large portion of Swedish IF fans

>are called Magnus. Probably just a statistical fluke, though.

I would think so.

--
Magnus Stromgren | <magnus.s...@geography.umu.se>
Department of Social and Economic Geography, Umeå University
<URL:http://www.umu.se/soc_econ_geography/personal/magnus/en/>

Neil K.

unread,
Jan 29, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/29/00
to
Fredrik Ekman <ek...@lysator.liu.se> wrote:

> And why not? Personally, I would be much happier to see a good
> text adventure in Finnish than yet another English game, even
> though I would be totally unable to play it. I do not see why
> IF should have to be for the English-speaking world only.

Same here. I think it'd be great to see more IF in different languages.
Sure, I personally wouldn't be able to play most of them, but so what?

As for the Finnish audience, this discussion has brought responses from
several Finns. A lot of Finns seem to be online - I'm sure there'd be a
small but interested audience of Finnish-speakers out there.

- Neil K.

--
t e l a computer consulting + design * Vancouver, BC, Canada
web: http://www.tela.bc.ca/tela/ * email: tela @ tela.bc.ca

TenthStone

unread,
Jan 30, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/30/00
to
On 27 Jan 2000 13:43:38 +0100, Fredrik Ekman <ek...@lysator.liu.se>
wrote:

>Pardon me if I do not understand this properly, but it seems to
>me that a Finnish parser whould not really be more difficult to
>construct than an English, only it would have to be constructed
>using a totally different set of rules and would not be able to
>allow abbreviations of words. And if lack of abbreviation is
>considered a problem, I am sure it could be worked around
>somehow.

I'm not sure you're entirely right. Unless there were some obvious
clue (e.g. all words ending in 'xxxx' can be considered to be
certain parts of speech), a Finnish parser would be considerably
harder to write than an English parser; in English, nouns (excepting
the personal pronouns) are constant however they are used in
a sentence. Noun declension plays havoc with that.

Of course, once you've figured out how to parse a Finnish sentence,
the rest of the process should be simpler, since there's little doubt
about how things are intended.

----------------
The Imperturbable TenthStone
tenth...@hotmail.com mcc...@gsgis.k12.va.us

Timo Korvola

unread,
Jan 31, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/31/00
to
tenth...@hotmail.com (TenthStone) writes:

> I'm not sure you're entirely right. Unless there were some obvious
> clue (e.g. all words ending in 'xxxx' can be considered to be
> certain parts of speech), a Finnish parser would be considerably
> harder to write than an English parser;

Usually the case can be recognized by looking at the end of the word.
Generating correct declensions would be more difficult as the rules
are actually rather complicated. That would probably be needed for
output even if the parser would get along with simpler rules (if it is
allowed to recognize some incorrectly inflected words as well). So
one would probably end up tabulating the declensions for output
purposes and might as well use the tables also for input. This would
mean a huge number of recognized words but I don't know if it would be
a problem if the words were hashed properly.

After the lexical analysis (i.e., recognizing the nouns, adjectives
etc. and their cases in the input) I don't think there would be any
particular problems in the actual parsing.

> in English, nouns (excepting
> the personal pronouns) are constant however they are used in
> a sentence.

This is not quite true--there is still the number. But admittedly
English is simpler in this sense.

This discussion should probably be in r.a.i-f instead but I am too
lazy to do anything about it.

msa...@cc.jyu.fi

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Jan 31, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/31/00
to
Quoth the Neil K. <fake...@anti-spam.address>:

> As for the Finnish audience, this discussion has brought responses from
> several Finns. A lot of Finns seem to be online - I'm sure there'd be a
> small but interested audience of Finnish-speakers out there.

Sure, I'd write a one if someone wrote Finnish parser for Inform. I'd
prefer writing in Finnish, really.

(Well, I've actually written a Finnish IF game once; I wrote it with
Qbasic, so it wasn't very complicated or anything... Too bad I don't have
it anymore, I'd like to take a look at it now and laugh at it. It used
verb + noun and for example "kirves" was called "kirv" to catch all forms.
Simple, but not very elegant... )

--
Mikko Saari For you I even be a sunflower
msa...@cc.jyu.fi Do you hear my enlightening laughter?

156 another reason to cut off an ear

Branko Collin

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Jan 31, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/31/00
to
On Wed, 26 Jan 2000 15:44:25 GMT, Nick Montfort
<nickmo...@my-deja.com> wrote:
>In article <86mf71$g67$1...@mordred.cc.jyu.fi>, msa...@cc.jyu.fi wrote:
>
>> It's really too bad that I
>> can't (or it is not reasonable) write games in Finnish; I *know* I'm
>> a good writer if I write in Finnish.
>
>Even if you can communicate well in English, through, it's not going to be
>well-written.
[...]
>consider other options:

>
>o Write a work of IF in Finnish and have the text translated into
>English by someone who does literary translation.

How is translation going to help? If you are that sure that only rare
exceptions (like Conrad, like the other chap) can master a second
language as if it were his first, then where is Mikko going to find a
translator that can turn a well made Finnish work into an well made
English one?

--
branko
"As we discovered on ifMUD, it works quite well if you read
this article aloud, using the voice of the Emperor from
Return of the Jedi." (Lucian Paul Smith)

Magnus Olsson

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Jan 31, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/31/00
to
In article <3895f05...@news.xs4all.nl>,

Branko Collin <col...@xs4all.nl> wrote:
>On Wed, 26 Jan 2000 15:44:25 GMT, Nick Montfort
><nickmo...@my-deja.com> wrote:
>>In article <86mf71$g67$1...@mordred.cc.jyu.fi>, msa...@cc.jyu.fi wrote:
>>
>>> It's really too bad that I
>>> can't (or it is not reasonable) write games in Finnish; I *know* I'm
>>> a good writer if I write in Finnish.
>>
>>Even if you can communicate well in English, through, it's not going to be
>>well-written.
>[...]
>>consider other options:
>>
>>o Write a work of IF in Finnish and have the text translated into
>>English by someone who does literary translation.
>
>How is translation going to help? If you are that sure that only rare
>exceptions (like Conrad, like the other chap) can master a second
>language as if it were his first, then where is Mikko going to find a
>translator that can turn a well made Finnish work into an well made
>English one?

Well, there obviously are people who do translations with a high
literary standard (or there wouldn't be any English editions of
non-English classics). Nick will probably say that translating is
easier than writing original literature. I don't think so; at least I
don't think the linguistic skills required by a translator are less
than those required by an author.

Anyway, good translators aren't exactly cheap. How many hobbyists can
afford to pay to have their IF translated?

Nick Montfort

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Jan 31, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/31/00
to
In article <874q3n$9bl$1...@bartlet.df.lth.se>, m...@bartlet.df.lth.se
(Magnus Olsson) wrote:

> Nick will probably say that translating is
> easier than writing original literature.

I think literary translation is difficult. That's why I recommended
working with someone who is an expert at literary translation.

> Anyway, good translators aren't exactly cheap. How many hobbyists can
> afford to pay to have their IF translated?

I'm not suggesting that IF authors hire help, but that they actually
collaborate with others. Programmers are quite costly - more costly
than translators, I would guess, on avarage - but people are willing to
spend their programming time working on an IF project they love, and
not getting paid for it.

I don't mean to suggest that there are hordes of Finnish-to-English
literary translators out there just waiting to sign on to collaborate
with a programmer/writer and translate an IF. But if you never ask
people to collaborate with you, you won't find out.

In response to "how is translation going to help" - it seems obvious.
Hamlet translated well into French is going to be a better work than
Shakespeare's hypothetical attempt write a French text of Hamlet.

Magnus Olsson

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Jan 31, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/31/00
to
[ Note about the somewhat unusual crossposting: This discussion
started in rec.games.int-fiction, which is a group about text
adventure games, a.k.a. Interactive Fiction. However, the question I'm
about to ask is relevant to writing in general, and I'd like to hear
what the pros and the publishing people on rec.arts.sf.composition
have to say. ]

In a discussion about the writing of text adventure games (computer
games where the main output from the computer is prose, written by a
human author - like "Zork" and "Adventure"), a somewhat bold assertion
was made:

People who don't have English as their first language can never learn
the nuances of that language well enough to write acceptable
literature in English (with the exception of some rare geniuses such
as Nabokov or Conrad). Therefore, unless they happen to be Nabokov or
Conrad, any non-native-speakers should forget about writing in
English, and keep to their native language (or hire a native to do
their writing for them); any attempts to write in English will be so
bad that nobody will want to read them anyway.

(I hope I haven't distorted your argument, Nick; please correct me if
I have).

My reaction to this is that it is utter nonsense. Surely there must be
lots of published writers who write directly in a foreign
language. The problem is that I can't come up with any good examples,
except for George Mikes, which adds just one more exception to the
list above. This could simply be because if a non-native speaker
writes well enough in his/her second language, one doesn't notice, and
the author's first language usually isn't mentioned in cover
blurbs. It could of course also be because such writers are just as
rare as the original poster claims.

And, of course, in many cultures people have had to write in a second
language, because the vernacular wasn't considered good enough for
literature (for example, take Europe in the middle ages). But it's
perhaps different when everybody does it

I'm of course not denying that it *is* in many ways more difficult to
write in a foreign language than in one's native tongue. Nor am I
denying that it is often painfully obvious that a text was written by
somebody who wasn't writing in his native tongue. But there are many
native speakers who can't write as well. Sturgeon's law and all that.

So, does anybody have any idea of how common it is for fiction writers
to write directly in a foreign language, with a successful result? Or
should we give up even trying? (For the obvious reasons, I hope the
answer to the second question is "no").

David Silas

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Jan 31, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/31/00
to

Magnus Olsson wrote in message <87502n$ilc$1...@bartlet.df.lth.se>...
<snip>

>So, does anybody have any idea of how common it is for fiction writers
>to write directly in a foreign language, with a successful result? Or
>should we give up even trying? (For the obvious reasons, I hope the
>answer to the second question is "no").
>

I have heard that T.S. Eliot wrote Murder in the Cathedral in French. I
believe that Salman Rushdie writes in English. I know that Chinua Achebe
wrote in English. I don't know the relative numbers, but it seems to come
down to this:

People who write in a foreign language do it badly, unless they do it well.

Pretty much the same as people writing in their native language. Making a
blanket statement about this sort of thing seems silly.


Dan Goodman

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Jan 31, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/31/00
to
In article <87502n$ilc$1...@bartlet.df.lth.se>,
>So, does anybody have any idea of how common it is for fiction writers
>to write directly in a foreign language, with a successful result? Or
>should we give up even trying? (For the obvious reasons, I hope the
>answer to the second question is "no").

In science fiction, Hugo Gernsback probably had English as his third or
fourth written language (after French, German, and possibly Hebrew) and
his fourth or fifth spoken language (after Letzeburgish, French, German,
and possibly Hebrew). He wasn't a great writer; but his English is as
good as that of other sf writers of his time.

Colin McLean (sp?) is an adventure writer in English; I believe his native
language is Scots Gaelic.


--
Dan Goodman
dsg...@visi.com
http://www.visi.com/~dsgood/index.html
Whatever you wish for me, may you have twice as much.

Paul O'Brian

unread,
Jan 31, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/31/00
to
On 31 Jan 2000, Magnus Olsson wrote (of Nick Montfort's argument):

> People who don't have English as their first language can never learn
> the nuances of that language well enough to write acceptable
> literature in English (with the exception of some rare geniuses such
> as Nabokov or Conrad). Therefore, unless they happen to be Nabokov or
> Conrad, any non-native-speakers should forget about writing in
> English, and keep to their native language (or hire a native to do
> their writing for them); any attempts to write in English will be so
> bad that nobody will want to read them anyway.
>
> (I hope I haven't distorted your argument, Nick; please correct me if
> I have).

Perhaps not a distortion exactly, but I do think that the above is an
exaggeration of what I've seen Nick post. I don't think he was arguing
that "any attempts to write in English will be so bad that nobody will
want to read them anyway." Instead, he was suggesting that writing of very
high quality is quite difficult to achieve in a second language.

What we might note here are several assumptions:

1) The obvious one is that writing of very high quality is a necessary
feature of good fiction, interactive or no. Dr. Asimov and others might
contend to the contrary, that in some types of fiction the writing simply
needs to be serviceable and effectively communicate the ideas behind the
work, which are (they would argue) the more important part.

2) The not-quite-so-obvious assumption has to do with what we mean by
"very high quality". Clearly, Nick seems to be interested in highly
nuanced prose, where subtle connotations of the chosen words all sing in
pitch-perfect harmony with one another. He appears to be privileging the
kind of values typically associated with the word "literary" rather than,
say, the word "transparent." However, I'm not convinced that writing of
very high quality must necessarily contain these values. It seems to me
that sometimes "literary" fiction (and I put the word in quotes because it
is so highly contentious) might be of not very high quality, and that
sometimes high quality writing does not necessarily contain excessively
subtle and nuanced prose.

3) Even if we assume that all high quality writing is literary and vice
versa, there's one more assumption: that the ability to produce such
writing stems from long association with a particular language. I'm not
convinced on this one either. Obviously, one must be well acquainted with
a particular tool in order to craft something excellent with that tool.
However, does it take a genius to be that well acquainted with a second
language? On the other hand, if we're talking about high literary prose
here, mightn't the ability to write it be limited to geniuses anyway?
After all, how many people can write the kind of prose Nick is looking for
in their *native* language, let alone a second one?

Edo Marinus

unread,
Feb 1, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/1/00
to
On Mon, 31 Jan 2000, David Silas wrote:

> I have heard that T.S. Eliot wrote Murder in the Cathedral in French.

Either I have just learned a fascinating new fact, or somebody has
made an equally fascinating mistake inspired by the name "Beckett".

You see, _Murder in the Cathedral_ is (unless I am mistaken) about the
murder of St Thomas à Becket, while Samuel Beckett was an Irish author who
wrote a lot of his stuff in French.

Not so much pedantic as amused,

Edo
--
REPORT ALL OBSCENE MAIL TO YOUR POTSMASTER


Edo Marinus

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Feb 1, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/1/00
to
On Mon, 31 Jan 2000, Branko Collin wrote:

> How is translation going to help? If you are that sure that only rare
> exceptions (like Conrad, like the other chap) can master a second
> language as if it were his first, then where is Mikko going to find a
> translator that can turn a well made Finnish work into an well made
> English one?

In my experience (as a translator) I find that your command of the
language you are translating something *into* (the target language) is
what counts. You only have to be good enough at the source language not to
make any silly mistakes, misunderstand idiomatic expressions, that sort of
thing.

A good dictionary helps with that, and a read-through by the author of
the draft translation will no doubt resolve any real problems.

Alma Hromic

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Feb 1, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/1/00
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On 31 Jan 2000 22:50:15 +0100, m...@bartlet.df.lth.se (Magnus Olsson)
wrote:

>In a discussion about the writing of text adventure games (computer


>games where the main output from the computer is prose, written by a
>human author - like "Zork" and "Adventure"), a somewhat bold assertion
>was made:
>

>People who don't have English as their first language can never learn
>the nuances of that language well enough to write acceptable
>literature in English (with the exception of some rare geniuses such
>as Nabokov or Conrad). Therefore, unless they happen to be Nabokov or
>Conrad, any non-native-speakers should forget about writing in
>English, and keep to their native language (or hire a native to do
>their writing for them); any attempts to write in English will be so
>bad that nobody will want to read them anyway.

>My reaction to this is that it is utter nonsense.

absolutely so.

>Surely there must be lots of published writers who write directly in a foreign
>language. The problem is that I can't come up with any good examples,
>except for George Mikes, which adds just one more exception to the
>list above. This could simply be because if a non-native speaker
>writes well enough in his/her second language, one doesn't notice, and
>the author's first language usually isn't mentioned in cover
>blurbs. It could of course also be because such writers are just as
>rare as the original poster claims.

oh, poppycock
you want an example? me. i was born into a language that had
absolutely nothing to do with english. and so far i have three
published books to my credit, almost 300 book reviews, stories in a
dozen anthologies, and published poetry not to mention travel articles
and straight journalism. so not only do i write in what the pedantic
might call my second language i write that second language in half a
dozen subtly or not-so-subtly differing formats - the language used in
a newspaper feature article is hardly the same as the language used in
a poem or a fantasy story. so far i managed to make people both laugh
and cry, in my second language. and i've been accused, somewhere along
the way, of having swallowed an (english) dictionary when i was five
years old because i keep on using as a matter of course all sorts of
weird words that native english speakers have to sit up and say
"whuh?" to. the blanket statement that "People who don't have English


as their first language can never learn the nuances of that language

well enough to write acceptable literature in English" is arrogant in
the extreme. it is fact that many foreigners learn english well enough
to write brilliantly in it. less often do you get the reverse. in
fact, there are staggeringly few people whose native language is
english who EVER learn to speak, let alone write, a second language
fluently - perhaps that's to do with the fact that english is such an
international language that they don't ever feel the need to. but that
is no reason to dismiss anyone for the simple reason that they didn't
imbibe english with their mother's milk.

>I'm of course not denying that it *is* in many ways more difficult to
>write in a foreign language than in one's native tongue. Nor am I
>denying that it is often painfully obvious that a text was written by
>somebody who wasn't writing in his native tongue. But there are many
>native speakers who can't write as well. Sturgeon's law and all that.

absolutely. and i am not saying that every non-native speaker writes
brilliant english. but those who speak the language fluently should be
accorded the respect due to any speaker of english. assuming that a
foreigner speaks or writes worse english just because they are a
foreigner is patently xenophobic.

>So, does anybody have any idea of how common it is for fiction writers
>to write directly in a foreign language, with a successful result?

plenty. award winning african and caribbean writers who grew up with
local languages have written in english and have received accolades
for it.

> Or should we give up even trying? (For the obvious reasons, I hope the
>answer to the second question is "no").

the answer to the second question is most EMPHATICALLY no.

A.

***************
"The difference between journalism and literature
is that journalism is unreadable
and literature is unread."
Oscar Wilde

Jake Wildstrom

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Feb 1, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/1/00
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In article <389e3207...@203.29.160.5>,

Alma Hromic <ang...@ihug.co.nz> wrote:
>and cry, in my second language. and i've been accused, somewhere along
>the way, of having swallowed an (english) dictionary when i was five
>years old because i keep on using as a matter of course all sorts of
>weird words that native english speakers have to sit up and say
>"whuh?" to. the blanket statement that "People who don't have English

This brings up what strikes me as an unusual quirk of very good non-native
writers, in English and presumably other languages. Taking Conrad as an
example: he's an excellent writer, but something about his style seemed, in
lack of a better word for it, overcorrect. Narrative writers tend to write in
a conversational tone, it seems to me, and this element is missing somehow in a
language learned in maturity. This perhaps manifests itself in your writing by
way of your tendecy to use nonconversational words.

Just an observation--not a criticism. I have nothing against this style.

+--First Church of Briantology--Order of the Holy Quaternion--+
| A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into |
| theorems. -Paul Erdos |
+-------------------------------------------------------------+
| Jake Wildstrom |
+-------------------------------------------------------------+

Alma Hromic

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Feb 1, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/1/00
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On 01 Feb 2000 01:32:15 GMT, wil...@mit.edu (Jake Wildstrom) wrote:

>In article <389e3207...@203.29.160.5>,
>Alma Hromic <ang...@ihug.co.nz> wrote:
>>and cry, in my second language. and i've been accused, somewhere along
>>the way, of having swallowed an (english) dictionary when i was five
>>years old because i keep on using as a matter of course all sorts of
>>weird words that native english speakers have to sit up and say
>>"whuh?" to. the blanket statement that "People who don't have English
>
>This brings up what strikes me as an unusual quirk of very good non-native
>writers, in English and presumably other languages. Taking Conrad as an
>example: he's an excellent writer, but something about his style seemed, in
>lack of a better word for it, overcorrect. Narrative writers tend to write in
>a conversational tone, it seems to me, and this element is missing somehow in a
>language learned in maturity. This perhaps manifests itself in your writing by
>way of your tendecy to use nonconversational words.
>
>Just an observation--not a criticism. I have nothing against this style.

<G> 'cept that i learned the language when i was ten. don't know how
mature i was at the time...

Adam J. Thornton

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Feb 1, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/1/00
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In article <lpol4.399$eu2....@ptah.visi.com>,

Dan Goodman <dsg...@visi.com> wrote:
>In article <87502n$ilc$1...@bartlet.df.lth.se>,
>Magnus Olsson <m...@bartlet.df.lth.se> wrote:
>>So, does anybody have any idea of how common it is for fiction writers
>>to write directly in a foreign language, with a successful result? Or

>>should we give up even trying? (For the obvious reasons, I hope the
>>answer to the second question is "no").
>In science fiction, Hugo Gernsback probably had English as his third or
>fourth written language (after French, German, and possibly Hebrew) and
>his fourth or fifth spoken language (after Letzeburgish, French, German,
>and possibly Hebrew). He wasn't a great writer; but his English is as
>good as that of other sf writers of his time.

Joseph Conrad's native language was Polish.

Adam
--
ad...@princeton.edu
"My eyes say their prayers to her / Sailors ring her bell / Like a moth
mistakes a light bulb / For the moon and goes to hell." -- Tom Waits

Magnus Olsson

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Feb 1, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/1/00
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In article <Pine.GSO.3.96.100013...@ucsu.Colorado.EDU>,

Paul O'Brian <obr...@ucsu.Colorado.EDU> wrote:
>On 31 Jan 2000, Magnus Olsson wrote (of Nick Montfort's argument):
>
>> People who don't have English as their first language can never learn
>> the nuances of that language well enough to write acceptable
>> literature in English (with the exception of some rare geniuses such
>> as Nabokov or Conrad). Therefore, unless they happen to be Nabokov or
>> Conrad, any non-native-speakers should forget about writing in
>> English, and keep to their native language (or hire a native to do
>> their writing for them); any attempts to write in English will be so
>> bad that nobody will want to read them anyway.
>>
>> (I hope I haven't distorted your argument, Nick; please correct me if
>> I have).
>
>Perhaps not a distortion exactly, but I do think that the above is an
>exaggeration of what I've seen Nick post. I don't think he was arguing
>that "any attempts to write in English will be so bad that nobody will

>want to read them anyway."

OK, that was an exaggeration; sorry for that.

>Instead, he was suggesting that writing of very
>high quality is quite difficult to achieve in a second language.

Yes, and the problem I have with this is not the suggestion itself,
but what we mean by "very high quality". If one means the quality of
writing associated with authors such as Nabokov it's a fairly
non-controversial statement.

But here's what Nick actually wrote (readers of r.a.sf.c should
note that the context is game writing):

>It's not a horrible idea to write the game in English - for certain
>purposes. Even if you can communicate well in English, through, unless
>you're Conrad or Nabokov - someone intimate with English diction,
>its shades of meaning and twists of syntax - it's not going to be
>well-written. It might still be enjoyed by some people, as well as
>helping you to master aspects of IF craft.
>
>For some people, though, writing that is above-average with a few great
>moments is worth more than dozens of gripping puzzles. If these people
>are part of your readership, consider other options:

What he seems to be saying is that one has to be as intimate with
English as Conrad or Nabokov in order to produce above-average
writing. Not Nobel class writing, not "high literature", but merely
above-average writing with a few great moments.

But this is rather irrelevant to my question; I'm just bringing this
up to avoid misrepresenting Nick's position.

It's perhaps rather obvious that this is a sensitive issue for me, so
let me get personal for a moment. It's partly a metter of hurt pride,
but mostly it's that posts like Nick's very much make me question what
I'm doing, both the writing and the criticism. Every time I've sent
off a critique to Critters, I wonder what business I have criticizing
an author's way of using his or her own language (especially since my
critiques seem to have a tendency of degenerating into line-by-line
edits, which are probably not at all what the author really wants,
expects or needs).

So it's good to hear that you don't have to be Conrad or Nabokov to
get published in a foreign language after all. Kind of makes one's
prospects seem a little more hopeful.

Iain Merrick

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Feb 1, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/1/00
to
Magnus Olsson wrote:
[...]

> So, does anybody have any idea of how common it is for fiction writers
> to write directly in a foreign language, with a successful result? Or
> should we give up even trying? (For the obvious reasons, I hope the
> answer to the second question is "no").

This really depends on your definition of 'foreign language', I think.

There are plenty of examples of people writing fluently in two or three
languages which they grew up with; this seems to cover most of the
examples people have given in this thread. But is it common for people
to write well in languages they learn in later life?

As far as I can see, it's next to impossible to pick up all the
linguistic tricks of a native speaker unless you learn the language
properly at a young age. You can learn to express yourself, sure, but
only in a gawky, stilted manner. I hope I'm wrong, since this would mean
I'll be limited to writing in English for the rest of my life.

Counter-examples, anyone?

--
Iain Merrick
i...@cs.york.ac.uk

Iain Merrick

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Feb 1, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/1/00
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Nick Montfort wrote:
[...]

> I don't mean to suggest that there are hordes of Finnish-to-English
> literary translators out there just waiting to sign on to collaborate
> with a programmer/writer and translate an IF. But if you never ask
> people to collaborate with you, you won't find out.

I don't think you'd need a Finnish-to-English translator, even.

You could probably get good results with a Finnish writer who is able to
translate his or her ideas into some sort of English, and a native
English speaker who can rewrite the rough translation into beautiful
'literary' prose.

You wouldn't need a single person with perfect knowledge of _both_
languages, just two native speakers, at least one of whom has a
smattering of the other's language.

--
Iain Merrick
i...@cs.york.ac.uk

Magnus Olsson

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Feb 1, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/1/00
to
In article <3896F7...@cs.york.ac.uk>,

This is an interesting way of looking at it: using "imperfect English"
as an intermediate language, just as machine translators use some sort
of abstract representation as an intermediate language, or a compiler
may use C as an intermediate language (betwee, say, C++ and machine
code).

But I can't see that this differs very much from what I and several
others suggested, viz. to write in imperfect, "non-native" English
and then let a native edit the text (or even just suggest edits).

I'm a bit surprised that Nick is so quick to dismiss this idea - "not
even sloppy journalism is written that way" - because editing is a
standard procedure even for native writers. Not in journalism,
perhaps, but in book publishing. I've even heard of dyslectic authors
who wrote almost unreadable manuscripts that were then edited into
publishable shape, and went on to become bestsellers.

As for collaborating with a writer who actually writes text to spec: I
think that's a good idea (sorry, Nick, if I gave a different
impression), *if* that's what you want to do. I seem to recall people
having volunteered to collaborate in this way on IF projects.

Magnus Olsson

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Feb 1, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/1/00
to
In article <3896F4...@cs.york.ac.uk>,

Iain Merrick <i...@cs.york.ac.uk> wrote:
>Magnus Olsson wrote:
>[...]
>> So, does anybody have any idea of how common it is for fiction writers
>> to write directly in a foreign language, with a successful result? Or
>> should we give up even trying? (For the obvious reasons, I hope the
>> answer to the second question is "no").
>
>This really depends on your definition of 'foreign language', I think.
>
>There are plenty of examples of people writing fluently in two or three
>languages which they grew up with;

Define "grow up with". What I've heard is that in order to learn a
language as a native speaker, you have to learn it before the age of
five or so.

You can't extend this time by too much, since foreign language teaching
in most countries seems to start rather early, before age 10. And I think
we can all agree that learning a language in school doesn't necessarily
make you very good at that language.

>this seems to cover most of the
>examples people have given in this thread.

Really? I'm not so sure about that.

>But is it common for people
>to write well in languages they learn in later life?

Yes, that's exactly the question.

>As far as I can see, it's next to impossible to pick up all the
>linguistic tricks of a native speaker unless you learn the language
>properly at a young age. You can learn to express yourself, sure, but
>only in a gawky, stilted manner.

Tell me, do you think I express myself in a "gawky, stilted manner"?
I'm not being sarcastic, just wondering, since while my school started
teaching English in third grade (age 9), I can't really claim to
have learned it properly at that age - I don't think the teaching really
took off until seventh grade (age 13).

David Silas

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Feb 1, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/1/00
to

Edo Marinus wrote in message ...

Edo


You, I think you're right. Amazing where the mind goes when it jumps the
tracks.

Thanks.
David.

Lois McMaster Bujold

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Feb 1, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/1/00
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Iain Merrick wrote:
>
> Magnus Olsson wrote:
> [...]
> > So, does anybody have any idea of how common it is for fiction writers
> > to write directly in a foreign language, with a successful result? ...

>
> This really depends on your definition of 'foreign language', I think.
>
> There are plenty of examples of people writing fluently in two or three
> languages which they grew up with; this seems to cover most of the
> examples people have given in this thread. But is it common for people

> to write well in languages they learn in later life?
>
> As far as I can see, it's next to impossible to pick up all the
> linguistic tricks of a native speaker unless you learn the language
> properly at a young age. You can learn to express yourself, sure, but
> only in a gawky, stilted manner. I hope I'm wrong, since this would mean
> I'll be limited to writing in English for the rest of my life.
>
> Counter-examples, anyone?

I don't know at what ages he learned the languages, but I'd
heard that Robert Van Gulik, the Dutch writer of the delightful Judge
Dee mystery novel series, did his own translations into English,
Japanese, and Chinese.

Ta, Lois.


Iain Merrick

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Feb 1, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/1/00
to
Magnus Olsson wrote:
[...]

> >But is it common for people
> >to write well in languages they learn in later life?
>
> Yes, that's exactly the question.

Ah. That seemed to be an unstated assumption of some people, while
others were misinterpreting it. Someone mentioned Nabokov, for instance,
and I'm pretty sure he grew up tri-lingual.

> >As far as I can see, it's next to impossible to pick up all the
> >linguistic tricks of a native speaker unless you learn the language
> >properly at a young age. You can learn to express yourself, sure, but
> >only in a gawky, stilted manner.
>

> Tell me, do you think I express myself in a "gawky, stilted manner"?

Since you ask, definitely not.

> I'm not being sarcastic, just wondering, since while my school started
> teaching English in third grade (age 9), I can't really claim to
> have learned it properly at that age - I don't think the teaching really
> took off until seventh grade (age 13).

Okay, so it's not a clear-cut thing. I'd count learning from age 9 as
'learning at a young age'. I wasn't taught any foreign languages until
12 or 13, and the lessons I got weren't very useful on their own.

So my current situation is that I know a few random French words, but
can't remotely hold a conversation in French. It seems pretty unlikely
that I'll ever speak or write 'like a native' in anything other than
English. Unless someone wants to post a heartwarming story about how
they learned Japanese at the age of 73...?

--
Iain Merrick
i...@cs.york.ac.uk

Second April

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Feb 1, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/1/00